How Bad Science & Horrific Journalism Misrepresent Wildfires and Climate

Guest post by Jim Steele,

As one wildfire expert wrote, “Predicting future fire regimes is not rocket science; it is far more complicated than that.” But regardless of accuracy, most people are attracted to very simple narratives such as: more CO2 causes global warming causes more fires. Accordingly in the summer of 2019, CNN trumpeted the headline California wildfires burn 500% more land because of climate change. They claimed, “the cause of the increase is simple. Hotter temperatures cause drier land, which causes a parched atmosphere.” CNN based their claims on a scientific paper by lead authors Park Williams and John Abatzoglou titled Observed Impacts of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Wildfire in California. The authors are very knowledgeable but appear to have hitched their fame and fortune to pushing a very simple claim that climate change drives bigger wildfires. As will be seen, their advocacy appears to have caused them to stray from objective scientific analyses.

If Williams and Abatzoglou were not so focused on forcing a global warming connection, they would have at least raised the question, ‘why did much bigger fires happen during cooler decades?’ The 1825 New Brunswick fire burned 3,000,000 acres. In Idaho and Montana the Great Fire of 1910 burnt another 3,000,000 acres. In 1871, the Great Michigan Fire burned 2,500,000 acres. Those fires were not only 6 times larger than California’s biggest fire, they occurred in moister regions, regions that don’t experience California’s Mediterranean climate with its guaranteed months of drought each and every summer. If those huge devastating fires occurred in much cooler times, what are the other driving factors of big wildfires?

Bad analyses cause bad remedies, and here is why Williams and Abatzoglou’s last paper exemplifies a bad scientific analysis. Analyzing changes in California’s burned areas from 1972 to 2018 they claimed, “The clearest link between California wildfires and anthropogenic climate change thus far, has been via warming-driven increases in atmospheric aridity, which works to dry fuels and promote summer forest fire.” But natural cycles of low rainfall due to La Niñas also cause dry fuels. The increase in burned area is also attributed to increases in human ignitions such as faulty electrical grids, to increased surface fuels from years of fire suppression, and to changes in vegetation that increased the abundance of easily ignited fine fuels like annual grasses. Furthermore, temperatures in some local regions experiencing the biggest fires have not been warming over the past 50 years (See temperature graphs in this essay’s last segment. Data from Western Regional Climate Center). All those factors promote rapid wildfire spread and greater burned areas. Although good science demands separating those contributing factors before analyzing a possible correlation between temperature and area burned, Williams and Abatzoglou oddly did not do so! That’s bad science.

Although Williams and Abatzoglou did acknowledge that other factors modulate the effects of warming on burned areas they admitted their statistical correlations did not “control” for those effects. To “control” for all those contributing factors, they could have easily subtracted estimates of burned areas associated with those factors. For example, a 2018 research paper estimates, “Since the year 2000 there’ve been a half-million acres burned due to powerline-ignited fires, which is five times more than we saw in the previous 20 years.” Did Williams and Abatzoglou not do the needed subtractions of other well-established factors because it would weaken their global warming correlation?

Similarly, CNN journalists were content to simply blame climate change. However, in light of the increasing devastation caused by powerline-ignited fires, good investigative journalists should have asked the former California Governor Jerry Brown if he now regrets having vetoed the bipartisan bill crafted to secure the power grid; an action that could have saved so many lives and property. Instead CNN simply promoted Brown’s persistent climate fearmongering quoting, “This is only a taste of the horror and terror that will occur in decades.”

Ignoring the complex effects of human ignitions, CNN also parroted claims that global warming is causing fire season to last all year. But as seen in the graph below from a 2017 wildfire study, the United States’ natural fire season is due to lightning and only dominates during the months of July and August, when California’s high wind events are low. In contrast it is human ignitions that extend fire season, dramatically increasing ignitions throughout the winter months when fuel moisture is higher, and into seasons when cooling desert air generates strong episodes of Santa Ana and Diablo winds. Those high winds cause fires to spread rapidly, burning 2-3 times more area than fires ignited during low winds, and California’s most destructive fires recently occurred during those high wind events. However, like other researchers, Williams and Abatzoglou reported no trend in those destructive California winds. Furthermore, climate models suggest a warming climate should cause weaker winds. So, without a change in California’s windy conditions, high winds can’t be blamed, directly, for the increased burned areas. However, because more human-caused ignitions occur during the winter, it increases the probability that more fires will be amplified by those strong winter winds. As US Geological Survey’s wildfire expert states, “Some will argue that it’s climate change but there is no evidence that it is. It’s the fact that somebody ignites a fire during an extreme [wind] event.”


The timing of human ignitions is but one driver of more and bigger fires. Increased surface fuels are another huge factor. It is well known that past fire suppression has allowed surface fuels to accumulate in forests, leading to bigger and more devastating fires. But the changes in surface fuels are more complex. Some scientists point out that certain logging practices spread “invasive grasses called cheat grass, for example, and other ones that form this really thick mat across the area after logging and that grass just spreads flames very rapidly and fires burn very intensely through that.” California’s Democrat congressman Ro Khanna has been arguing that the U.S. Forest Service policy to clear cut after a wildfire is making California’s forest fires spread faster and burn hotter by increasing the forest floor’s flammable debris. Khanna says, “Because we don’t have the right science, it is costing us lives, and that is the urgency of getting this right.”

Controlling the spread of cheat grass is urgently needed. Grasses are “fine fuels” that ignite most easily. The 2018 Carr Fire was California’s 7th largest fire and threatened the town of Redding, California. It started when a towed trailer blew a tire causing its wheel rim to scrape the asphalt creating a spark which ignited roadside grasses. Those grasses carried the fire into the shrublands and forests. Grasses are classified as 1-hour fine fuels, meaning they become highly flammable in just one hour of warm dry conditions. Climate change is totally irrelevant. It does not matter if it was wet and cool, or hot and dry during previous days, weeks or years. Just one hour of warm dry fire weather sets the stage for an explosive grass fire that then gets carried into the forests. Fire weather happens every year, and partially explains why fires could burn 3,000,000 acres in the cool 1800s.

It was not human ignition but lightning that caused the 2012 Rush Fire. It was California’s 4th largest fire burning 272,000 acres of sagebrush habitat, which then continued to burn additional area in Nevada. Historically, because surface fuels are scarce, hot dry sagebrush habitat rarely burned (once every 60-100 years). But invasions of non-native cheat grass have now provided ample fuel to turn small lighting fires into huge conflagrations. Eleven of the USA’s 50 biggest fires in last 20 years are in the Great Basin, where invasive cheatgrass is spreading. Nevada’s largest fire was the 2018 Martin Fire. Rapidly spreading through the cheat grass, it burned 439,000 acres. Cheat grass fires are a great concern for biologists trying to protect the threatened Sage Grouse as cheat grass-dominated sagebrush habitat now burns every 3-5 years. Habitat with high cheat grass abundance are “twice as likely to burn as those with low abundance, and four times more likely to burn multiple times between 2000-2015.”

When experts estimate impending fire danger, they determine how fast a fire will spread. The Spread Component considers the effects of wind and slope and daily changes in the moisture content of the surface fuels. Large dead trees may become flammable after 1000 hours of warm dry conditions, but still thick fuels only ignite if fast burning surface fuels supply enough heat. Thus, the Spread Component only considers smaller-diameter fuels like grasses that can dry out in an hour, as well as twigs and small branches that dry out within 10 to 100 hours. Central and Southern California are dominated by shrubby habitat with small diameter fuels that allow fire to spread rapidly. The December 2017 Thomas Fire was California’s 2nd largest fire. Its human ignition coincided with a Santa Ana wind event resulting in the burning of 282,000 acres in southern California.

Counter-intuitively Williams and Abatzoglou found the correlation between burned area in the hotter and drier climate of California’s Central and South Coast to be “relatively weak”. Accordingly, they reported “Annual burned area did not change significantly in Central and South Coast.” That insignificant climate effect over half of California escaped the notice of journalists who only cherry-picked the researcher’s more alarming climate narratives. Most interesting, Williams and Abatzoglou suggested the lack of a climate-change correlation with California’s Central and South Coast burned areas was because fires there were “strongly manipulated by humans via ignitions, suppression, and land cover change.”

Lightning is rare along California’s Central and South Coast, so nearly 100% of those fires are ignited by humans. As California’s population doubled since the 1970s, adding 20 million people, the probability of more human-started fires has increased. Unlike forested areas where fire suppression builds up deadly surfaced fuels, California’s Central and South Coast need to suppress fires. Due to more frequent fires caused by humans, shrublands are converting to grasslands. The increased fine fuels of the grasslands more readily ignite and spread fire. Furthermore, California’s natural climate undergoes wet years due to El Nino followed by dry La Nina years. Wet years make fine fuels more abundant. Thus fire suppression is needed to prevent more frequent fires caused by the conversion of shrublands to grasslands.

In contrast to the insignificant changes in burned areas in California’s southern half, Williams and Abatzoglou reported burned areas in the Sierra Nevada and the North Coast increased by more than 600%, which they attributed to human-caused climate change. They reported, “During 1896–2018, March–October Tmax [maximum temperature] averaged across the four California study regions increased by 1.81 °C, with a corresponding increase in VPD [ Vapor Pressure Deficit – a measure of atmospheric dryness] of 1.59 hPa (+13%)…The observed trends in Tmax and VPD are consistent with trends simulated by climate models as part of the CMIP5 experiments, supporting the interpretation that observed increases in California warm‐season temperature and VPD have been largely or entirely driven by anthropogenic forcing.”

But how can only half of California’s fires be due to global warming and the other half not? All of California is “strongly manipulated by humans via ignitions, suppression, and land cover change”? Were Williams and Abatzoglou straying from objective science?

Part of the problem is their ill-advised use of a maximum temperature averaged for all California. Several studies have reported that maximum temperatures in the northern half of California have not exceeded the high temperatures of the 1930s. Because the early 20th century temperatures were deemed natural, unless recent temperatures exceed the natural 1930s, then human-caused warming is unlikely. Curiouser and curiouser, southern California has experienced temperatures that exceeded the 1930s. Yet there Williams and Abatzoglou did not find a significant effect from climate change.

Regardless Williams and Abatzoglou claimed “The clearest link between California wildfire and anthropogenic climate change thus far, has been via warming-driven increases in atmospheric aridity, which works to dry fuels and promote summer forest fire.” Yet summer maximum temperatures, averaged from March through October, located in the vicinity of California’s big fires do not indicate global warming. For example, the August 2013 Rim Fire centered around Yosemite National Park, was California’s 5th largest fire and 2nd largest in northern California, burning 257,000 acres. It was started by a hunter’s illegal campfire that he let get away. Unfortunately, there is no cure for stupid. Nonetheless, Yosemite’s maximum temperatures were warmer in the early 1900s. However, an in depth study of the Rim Fire found a strong correlation with the amount of shrubland interspersed with the trees.


The November 2018 Camp Fire was California’s deadliest fire destroying the town of Paradise. It was also its 16th largest fire burning 153,000 acres. It was ignited by a faulty power grid during a strong Diablo wind event. Similarly, based on weather data from nearby Chico CA, maximum temperatures were higher in the 1930s.


The Mendocino Complex Fire was California’s largest fire (since 1932). In July of 2018 it burned 459,000 acres. The source of human ignitions is still under investigation. Still, those fires were centered around the town of Ukiah which also reveals a cooling trend since 1930.


In October 2017, the wine country’s Tubbs Fire was the 4th deadliest. It only burned 37,000 acres but high winds drove embers into the dwellings of the heavily populated outskirts of Santa Rosa. Again, global warming was irrelevant as Santa Rosa has experienced a cooling trend since the 1930s.


Still some people are determined to link catastrophic fires with climate change. So, they will suggest delayed autumn rains allow more late season ignitions or the fall fires to burn longer. In Williams and Abatzoglou’s abstract they claim, “In fall, wind events and delayed onset of winter precipitation are the dominant promoters of wildfire.” But their results found, “no all‐region trend in onset of winter precipitation or October–November wet‐day frequency during 1915–2018.” As illustrated below by the October precipitation data for Santa Rosa, since 1900 there’s a 10% chance no rains will fall in October. Furthermore, October experienced more zero rainfall months in the early 1900s. A global warming caused delay in autumn rains has not yet been detected.

So, doing my best Greta Thunberg imitation, I say to climate alarmists, “How dare you misrepresent the causes of wildfires. How dare you imply less CO2 will reduce human ignitions and reduce surface fuels and the spread invasive grasses. Bad analyses lead to bad remedies! Your bad science is stealing Californian’s dreams and your false remedies distract us of from the real solutions. Young people and old alike, must demand better science and better journalism!”


Jim Steele is Director emeritus of San Francisco State’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus and authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism

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November 9, 2019 10:13 am

I just watched a advert on youtube, were they said “change is coming, we need to be carbon free by 2050, you are the help we need, to change the climate, and build a future to power EV’s and our homes with clean energy (picture of wind generators, and young people looking as though they are working 😐

When will this utter madness stop? I need a car, but can not afford a new EV, and a second hand ev with old batteries is out of the question, as I cannot afford new batteries 😐 There are countless people who are against this forced “green world” Yet we are voiceless on the main stage, no matter now many posts are made on blogs and sites about the greens and there madness, they are winning, and they will continue to win unless somebody educated enough with facts breaks through on to the main stage, and fights back!! Please form a group of scientist’s and other groups and fight back, together we are stronger.. I humbly and respectfully beg anybody and everybody to fightback, Please!

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Sunny
November 10, 2019 8:06 am

“Carbon-free” would mean getting rid of carbon-based life forms.

Reply to  Sunny
November 21, 2019 7:23 am

Sunny, check out Tell them you got their name from Beth at CSC Talk Radio.

Oliver Höner
November 9, 2019 10:32 am

Only climate alarmists are determined to link catastrophic fires with climate change.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Oliver Höner
November 9, 2019 4:29 pm

Many people, including town mayors, have done exactly that after recent fires here in Australia.

Reply to  Oliver Höner
November 10, 2019 2:27 am

In New South Wales, a town mayor has blamed catastrophic fires on carbon dioxide and anthropogenic climate change.

The real man-made problem in Australia is green environment policies.

November 9, 2019 10:42 am

It’s not “bad science” because it’s not science. Science is at it’s heart a systematic quest for knowledge. What that is as with so much of what we see so much of these days, is nothing more than pure propaganda intended to persuade.

Reply to  rah
November 9, 2019 12:18 pm

It’s not journalism, either. Its “science” fantasy.

Reply to  rah
November 9, 2019 12:59 pm

rah rah rah
It is a well known scientific fact that if the California average temperature rises by +0.1 degree C., the number of wildfires will increase by +8.7294% +/- 0.0001

How could +0.1 degrees of warming make such a big difference?

Because California PhD scientists say so, that’s how.

Please get your own climate science PhD, and then get published in peer reviewed science journals, and only then will YOU be qualified to decide what is science, and what is propaganda.

And by the way, if the California average temperature DECLINES by 2 degrees C., there will be far fewer wildfires — only those caused by lightening.

Jim Steele
Reply to  Richard Greene
November 9, 2019 1:24 pm

LOL Richard Greene,

You claim “It is a well known scientific fact ” but you are pitching a lot of BS. And clearly you did not read the essay or you would see the 100 year trends in maximum temperatures associated with California’s biggest fires.

I suspect you are just trolling

Jim Steele
Reply to  Richard Greene
November 9, 2019 1:31 pm

Richard I think I replied to your post too hastily. At first it appeared you were attacking me suggesting this article was not worth unless published in peer reviewed journals. I missed your sarcasm. Apologies for the troll comment

Reply to  Jim Steele
November 9, 2019 2:28 pm

(it’s the Greene that throws you every time)…

Komrade Kuma
Reply to  rah
November 9, 2019 4:14 pm

Propaganda does not “persuade” any more than a gun to your head is “pure propaganda intended to” terrify.

There was a study done in 2015 as part of a PhD thesis of more than 100,000 fires in Oz which had the overwhelming majority started by humans ( deliberately and accidentally) and only 13% by lightening. I recall some 47% identified as deliberately ( and I assume maliciously) started by humans and the remaining 40% being accidentally ignited or back burns that got away or otherwise suspected of being maliciously lit.

The only real conclusion I can see is that the ‘global warming’ meme and msm bushfire porn on our TV every night is a) giving nutjobs some sort of erection or b) giving eco warriors an opportunity to terrorise in the same way as car bombs without the direct blood splatter. Either way it has sweet stff al to do with any actual ‘global warming’.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Komrade Kuma
November 10, 2019 8:09 am

“only 13% by lightening”

Has there ever been a documented case of fire caused by “lightening”?

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
November 11, 2019 6:16 am

could someone stop spelling this wrong??? It’s driving me nuts.
It’s spelt LIGHTNING,

lightening is what you do to some odd coloured object, that’s too dark a shade.
Oh and let’s not start with COLOR v Colour shall we?

Julia Lorenz
November 9, 2019 10:51 am

All climate alarmists are natural climate change deniers.

November 9, 2019 11:10 am

Best way to control grass is by grazing, yet I see no one making that proposal. Cheat grass is here and no amount of control is going to stop its spread, so adapt, make use of the tools that were have to lessen it impact. After all grass feed beef has a better fat mixture for you anyway. All town should have a buffer are grazed down to nothing, that done by beef first, sheep next and goats last, apply and repeat often.

Reply to  Mark Luhman
November 9, 2019 11:32 am

I second this idea.

Reply to  Mark Luhman
November 9, 2019 11:53 am

Mark, your comment made me hungry, especially the “grass fed beef”. I’m gonna have a cheeseburger, mmmmmm.


Reply to  Bob Tisdale
November 9, 2019 1:07 pm

It’s been a cold year in Michigan and especially cold this week — a few days ago the lawn was covered in snow in the morning.

I’m getting a hamburger for lunch too.

And not only because I’m hungry.

As a public service for Michigan !

Meat causes global warming, as we all know, and those of us in Michigan have been bypassed by global warming, at least for the 42 years that I lived here.

And that’s not fair.

Reply to  Richard Greene
November 9, 2019 2:44 pm

Eat more meat!

Martin Novak
Reply to  Mark Luhman
November 9, 2019 1:52 pm

Goats goats goats

Reply to  Mark Luhman
November 9, 2019 2:39 pm

Hear, hear!

Of course, then you’ll have to worry about cattle rustlers! /sarc

Jim Steele
Reply to  Mark Luhman
November 9, 2019 2:54 pm


There are many groups pushing grazing as a solution. Lands where grazing have been removed suddenly suffered from domination by introduced weeds. The Savory Institute has been promoting holistic grazing . Savory gave a great TED talk on the issue

Reply to  Mark Luhman
November 9, 2019 6:36 pm

The Reagan museum which was threatened by one of the recent fires used a herd of goats to keep the surrounding areas under control which appeared to help.

JimH in CA
Reply to  Mark Luhman
November 9, 2019 8:57 pm

I live in the Blue Oak woodlands east of Beale AFB, at 900 ft elev. During the PG&E PSPS ‘blackout’ , on 10/27, a neighbor’s house caught fire at 3 am.[ no idea the cause ]. It was fully involved with flames going up 30-40 ft and with the 40 mph winds, blew large amounts of embers to the south. These ignited a grass fire on my pasture, among the blue oaks. Cal Fire got the house fire out in 1-1/2 hrs but was a total loss.
The grass fire was contained to about 5 acres with a dozer cutting a line around it. When I went there to repair my barbed wire fence that the dozer took out, I found that none of the oaks had burned, with only some minor scorching of the bark within 2 ft of the ground.
More interesting was that a number of dead, standing oaks were also not burned.

So, cattle grazing slowed the fire spread with the grass stubble only 3-4 inches high, and confirmed what I had been told by a local ‘fish and game’ guy….blue oaks don’t burn easily.!

Reply to  JimH in CA
November 10, 2019 7:21 am

Thanks, JimH — interesting. Correlates w/the post that grasses are a major culprit, and IMO conifers & eucalyptus w/their flammable saps.

Major fires are very rare here in the mid-Appalachian forests — usually just not dry enough. Excessively drained, steep, rocky slopes w/coniferous trees are the most vulnerable to fires here.

November 9, 2019 11:26 am

Bad climate science started when they guessed the wrong molecule

Hitran, using Quantum Mechanics, calculates the relative absorb/emit intensity of water vapor molecules vs CO2 molecules. Comparison at zero altitude is shown at . Comparison by the ratio of the summation of intensities (line lengths) for each wavenumber for each molecule species is 8.7/0.07 = 124. On average at ground level, WV molecules outnumber CO2 molecules by about 10,000/410 ≈ 24 to one. After accounting for molecule count, each WV molecule is still more than 124/24 ≈ 5 times more effective at absorb/emit of thermal radiation than a CO2 molecule.

The relative effectiveness of the increases of WV and CO2 over 30 years is calculated as follows:
CO2 increase in 3 decades, 1988 to 2018 = 407 – 348 = 59 parts per million by volume (ppmv)

Water vapor increase trend from NASA/RSS TPW data, is 0.04272/28.9 * 100 * 10 = 1.47 % per decade.

Average global WV = 10,000 ppmv. WV increase in 3 decades = .0147 * 10,000 * 3 = 441 ppmv

Therefore, WV has been 441/59 * 5 = 37+ times more effective at increasing ground level temperature than CO2. (Most of the world has been falsely indoctrinated.)

Above the tropopause (about 33,000 feet) WV molecules are reduced to about 32 ppmv because of the low temperature while CO2 molecules remain at 410 ppmv. Therefore, CO2 molecules outnumber WV molecules 410/32 ≈12 to one. At higher altitudes the molecule spacing increases and more and more of outward directed radiation makes it all the way to space. The increased cooling by more CO2 well above the tropopause counters and apparently fully compensates for the tiny added warming from CO2 increase at ground level. The result is that burning fossil fuels does not significantly affect climate.

Reply to  Dan Pangburn
November 9, 2019 3:03 pm

Atmospheric water vapour is strongly cooling. This table, has the monthly data covering the globe for 2018. As water vapour increases the OLR increases. That is the reverse of the “greenhouse” gas fairy tale.
Jan 17.04 236.8
Feb 17.29 236.5
Mar 17.73 237.9
Apr 18.19 238.7
May 20.40 240.6
Jun 20.92 243
Jul 21.89 243.9
Aug 21.04 243.4
Sep 20.54 242.2
Oct 19.68 239.5
Nov 18.93 237.1
Dec 18.91 236.5

Water vapour was at its lowest global average at 17.04mm in January and corresponded with the OLR being 236.8W/sq.m. Water vapour reached its maximum of 21.89mm in July and corresponded with the maximum OLR 243.9W/sq.m.

A similar cycle is observable every year as the water column rises and falls due to the orbital eccentricity, axis obligatory and distribution of water and land across the globe.

There is no such thing as a “greenhouse gas” that traps heat globally. More water vapour increases the rate of loss of energy.

Reply to  RickWill
November 10, 2019 10:10 am

Data source?

Is WV from clear air while emission includes clouds?

Reply to  RickWill
November 11, 2019 1:53 pm

Looking at a short time period in noisy data has resulted in a false conclusion.

Since 1988, According to NASA/RSS, WV (TPW) has increased 1.47% per decade while average global temperature has increased 0.13 K to 0.2 K per decade depending on the reporting agency. Increased WV caused warming.

Robert Keon
Reply to  Dan Pangburn
November 9, 2019 3:09 pm

I’ve been trying to get that across for ages. You only have to look at the LS layer temp record on the NASA sight to see that it’s temperature is falling as CO2 level increases.
Yes, CO2 and apparently N2O are primarily responsible for radiating excess heat from the planet to space and that’s somewhere on the NASA site too.

Reply to  Dan Pangburn
November 15, 2019 11:33 pm

According to climate science water vapor in the atmosphere is only controlled by CO2. CO2 is heating the air, warm air can hold more water vapor, planet is warming. End of story. The tail wags the dog, as we say here.
Your calculations are perfectly right but they do not fit into the narrative. What doesn’t fit into the narrative equals denial. Don’t you blockheads get that?
When will you give in finally and secure the future for the kids? We have to stop the planet holocaust and you guys start petty talk about WV. Shame on you, wash you mouth with soap twice a day, and, as already suggested above, get a PhD in climate science.

November 9, 2019 11:29 am

Jim Steele, well done as usual — but the eco-loons will be confused by all the technical details & data, and just say in frustration — “It’s gotta be global warming, you paid-by-oil-companies d*nier!”

Alan McIntire
November 9, 2019 12:00 pm

Lodgepole pines, giant sequoias, and coastal redwoods are pyrophites, and actually need fire to reproduce. Needless to say, such an evolutioary development would not have happened unless natural fires were fairly common.

The problem is, thanks to Smokey the Bear propaganda, undergrowth has been allowed to build up over the years, and what would have been minor fires are now major conflagrations thanks to that extra potential fuel accumulated over the years.

Steve Reddish
Reply to  Alan McIntire
November 9, 2019 1:58 pm

I’ve heard the claim often that lodgepole pines require fire to germinate, but that does not agree with my experience on my 10 acres just south of Bend Oregon. My acreage had not had a fire for at least 50 years, yet had had lodgepole saplings sprouted every year of that period.
Fire may increase the number of sprouts, but it is definitely not required.


Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Alan McIntire
November 10, 2019 10:50 am

The post-fire pictures of Paradise suggest that the buildings were more flammable than the trees. While the standing trees might be dead, that could also be from the extreme heat radiating from the nearby burning buildings.

Max Dupilka
November 9, 2019 12:12 pm

Jim, equally shoddy science is on display in Canada wild land fire research as well.

Unfortunately the paper is pay walled. But I do have the same data and what they claim as increasing fire area is quite cherry picked and amateur science. And, in fact, their data shows that the number of fires in Canada has been steadily decreasing. I do contract wild land fire weather forecasting so I am rather familiar with fire weather.

Layor Nala
Reply to  Max Dupilka
November 9, 2019 1:02 pm

The full text is available at

John F. Hultquist
November 9, 2019 12:14 pm


Thanks for the work of this post.
You could add the single largest recorded fire in North American history;
northern British Columbia and Alberta in the summer and early fall of 1950.
I remember the smoke darken sky – in western Pennsylvania

Layor Nala
November 9, 2019 12:52 pm

I thoughtmore CO2 would put the put fires out! Ha ha!

Pat Frank
November 9, 2019 12:57 pm

Jim Steele, “their advocacy appears to have caused them to stray from objective scientific analyses.

A plague throughout all of science these days.

It seems that most scientists themselves do not understand the meaning of science, nor how to distinguish objective knowledge from subjectivist narratives.

Such people, for all their brilliance, are mere methodological hacks.

Reply to  Pat Frank
November 9, 2019 2:27 pm

I’m a layman and I’ll ask you the same question I’ve asked Willis Eschenbach , Nic Lewis and anyone who understands data/evidence.

Have you read the study by the Connollys, who’ve checked millions of balloon data over many decades and concluded there is little evidence for AGW and certainly not CAGW?
Nic said he’ll have a look and perhaps Willis may also be checking their data.
Nic Lewis replied at Climate Audit (in comments) that he knew Ronan Connolly and he was a bright guy and he would have a look.
So Pat, can you have a look as well and tell us what you think of their study ( ies)? Here’s a recent power point link and the video “Balloons in the Air” also available at you tube. Thanks .×9-format.pdf

Reply to  Neville
November 9, 2019 7:03 pm

Thank you for asking the question of the experts. Keep at it. In my opinion the Connolly’s work is the most important set of findings to come along for some time and should end the “greenhouse effect causes catastrophe” cries. But , as stated above by Sonny, we need to band together to be heard. The media have chosen to not cover anything but the activist doom. It is a hard thing to fight alone.

Reply to  Neville
November 11, 2019 11:33 am

Neville, I was doing well with the Connollys until they got to this point on page 48 of their link, after wasting far, far too much of my time on meaningless trivia in the first 47 pages … but I digress, here’s what they said:

For a gas the plot of Molar Density versus Pressure
is normally a single straight line, and the slope tells
us the compressibility of the gas.

The bigger the slope the easier it is to compress
the gas.

So why does the air in the Tropopause suddenly
become easier to compress.

The answer is obvious. It’s not “easier to compress”. At the tropopause, as you go up in altitude the pressure is changing but the temperature is not. As a result, something’s gotta give. Remember that PV = n RT. If we hold V, R, and T constant and decrease P, as occurs in the tropopaus, “n” has to change. Normal. Expected. Doesn’t require any special explanation or contain any special meaning as they think.

Had to stop there … life is short, and when the foundation is wrong, the rest is wrong.


Pat Frank
Reply to  Neville
November 15, 2019 7:15 pm

Neville, I haven’t got the time (nor, honestly, the inclination) to go through the Connollys’ work in any detail.

However, on looking at your link, I noted that none of their graphics include uncertainty bounds in the radiosonde temperature plots; page 32 for example.

I know that radiosonde temperature data suffer from various sorts of systematic error, e.g., due to solar irradiance during daytime flights.

From the purity of their lines, it seems as though the Connollys assume that radiosonde errors are random and the Central Limit Theorem applies to the data. My suspicion is that assumption is insupportable.

What proper uncertainty bounds would do to the strength of their conclusions, I have no idea.

November 9, 2019 1:15 pm

It is an excellent article by Jim Steele, which reveals amongst other things how the whole climate alarmist campaign is purely political in nature and contains no science whatsoever. The analysis of the various causes of fires is clear and useful. It all applies equally well to the present fires in Australia which are receiving the same hysterical media treatment.

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
November 9, 2019 4:17 pm

Does Australia have a cheat grass equivalent? That might clarify some logic. Geoff S

Joel O'Bryan
November 9, 2019 1:24 pm

“How Bad Science & Horrific Journalism Misrepresent Wildfires and Climate”

The question that needs to be understood is the “Why” they are doing it.

Pat Frank
November 9, 2019 1:30 pm

Jim Steele, “Controlling the spread of cheat grass is urgently needed. Grasses are “fine fuels” that ignite most easily.

And those are European annual grasses, brought by the Spanish, that dry during the summer and become flammable. California native bunch grass is drought resistant and stays green all year long.

Some years ago, I visited Spain. The weeds growing along the countryside walks were completely familiar to me.

Reply to  Pat Frank
November 9, 2019 2:32 pm

please see my question to you above regarding the Connolly’s study. Neville.

Jim Steele
Reply to  Pat Frank
November 9, 2019 3:01 pm


Indeed Eurasian annuals are a big problem. California’s golden hills were once green. The annuals like cheatgrass germinate early and die early. By May those grasses are dead and ready to burn, even if the climate got cooler. That now creates a 5 month window for those grasses to serve as kindling for big fires.

In contrast native perennial bunch grasses did not senesce until September. Thus there was a much shorter window for fires before the October November rainy season begins

November 9, 2019 1:30 pm

A wildfire is Nature’s nonprofit waste management and recycling project, which happens to pose a threat, albeit temporary, to higher forms of life and imprudent human communities. Same with oil, a basic nutrient in one context, a risk factor in another. And the Green blight, too.

November 9, 2019 1:37 pm

But regardless of accuracy, most people are attracted to very simple narratives

People want to believe that they can infer the future, the past, and phenomenon outside the near-domain. A foundation constructed on a conflation of logical domains; a religion/moral philosophy designed for the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, leisure, narcissistic indulgence, and democratic leverage; and an ideology that is, in principle, divergent. Choose your reality.

November 9, 2019 1:39 pm

This paper suffers from the usual.
The subject and result desired were selected.
The data and sources were selected, manipulated, cherrypicked to get the narrative.
Any dissenting papers are ignored.
The press is complicit. Fear sells more news time.
I would guess the so called research paid for by an alarmist donator.

Reply to  Mark
November 9, 2019 6:46 pm

It also leaves out that if the climate science were correct and the world by some miracle decided to go full retard with emission control that we are talking about 2050 before stabilization and 2100 before you start to see any improvement. So if they follow there own story we will have had to learn to adapt and do different practices by then anyhow because apparently the damage is done.

There is an obvious case for some ambulance chasing lawyer in countries like USA to try getting a child to sue all older people for damages 🙂

Bruce of Newcastle
November 9, 2019 1:54 pm

As an Aussie I was interested by this story recently:

The Getty Fire, an expansive wildfire that started Sunday near the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, ignited when a dried out eucalyptus tree branch fell on a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power electric line. That caused arcing, and sparks ignited nearby brush, LADWP said.

I have had the feeder line to my house knocked out several times by a large eucalypt in my front yard. It would drop large branches onto it. Finally last year I sought council approval and had the tree cut right back.

Eucalypts are notorious in that they require fire to propagate, especially to germinate their seeds. So they shed lots of branches and oily bark and leaves. Highly flammable.

So California, from what I’ve seen over the years, has imported trees which are fires waiting to happen. Yet there are very few mentions of this issue. Instead it is all ‘climate change, climate change’. I think they won’t be solving the problem until they address real causes like eucalypts.

Jim Steele
Reply to  Bruce of Newcastle
November 9, 2019 2:49 pm

Eucalyptus imported from Australia are indeed a problem as they are known to explode and send embers into vulnerable neighborhoods. Many community are split on the Eucalyptus problem. Many people want to get rid of Eucalyptus, not just for fire safety reasons but because it can overshadow native plants, and other negative impacts. However there are “Save the Eucalyoptus” groups that fight any reduction in the trees. Its a crazy environmentalists vs environmentalists cluster “f**k.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Jim Steele
November 10, 2019 10:00 am

It is my understanding that the 1991 Oakland Hills firestorm was largely fueled by Eucalyptus.

Reply to  Bruce of Newcastle
November 9, 2019 3:09 pm

The question here should be – why do you need council permission to undertake prudent risk management on your own property – INSANE!!!!

Councillors demanding such nonsense should be securely bound to said tree during the height of a storm or wildfire.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  RickWill
November 9, 2019 4:46 pm

You need council approval to do everything here in Aus, even it is YOUR OWN PROPERTY. A few years ago during the Victorian fires, a property owner cleared trees and brush around his property, without council approval. His property was the only one that was unaffected by fires. Afterwards he was sued by the council to the tune of AU$50,000. I kid you not! Not sure if the case was dismissed or not. In Australia we have plenty of laws telling us what we CANNOT do!

Here is another insane council policy; Parking. No Sydney council has a common policy, so in each council area the have different rules. To be fair many are the same, but some are totally stupid. As an example, I was fined, $75 for parking bonnet/hood to curb when I should have parked boot/trunk to curb (The actual sign that stated how to park was half a mile further up the road). Everything else about the way I parked was good, within the parking bay lines, not over the curb/pavement/sidewalk or too far out in the road.

November 9, 2019 2:47 pm

I suspect the same loonies who glue themselves to the roads as a form of protest are also out there starting fires, in Australia anyway

Patrick MJD
Reply to  andy
November 9, 2019 8:57 pm

Yes, some fires in New South Wales a few weeks ago were started by arsonists. But that is still climate change.

November 9, 2019 3:18 pm

Lucy of Charlie Brown fame to Linus: “Liberal scientist can prove that global warming is real”.
Linus to Lucy: “They can’t even tell the difference between a boy and a girl.”

When Al Gore was born there were approximately 7,000 polar bears on the planet. Now, after decades of his yammering and lying about how global warming was going to kill off the polar bears, their numbers are down to just around 25,000.

Patrick MJD
November 9, 2019 4:59 pm
November 9, 2019 6:55 pm

I think the dramatic size of wildfires in the 1800’s was the rout of Native Americans from the forested areas. They routinely set fires to keep the underbrush down and open area for deer and other huntable animals, and also for growing crops.

The lack of hunting also triggered the overgrowth of animals such as buffalo and passenger pigeons. Both species finally succumbed to massive over kill for food, and destruction of much of the forest and prairie for farming by the early 1900’s.

November 9, 2019 7:33 pm

Outstanding, Jim, many thanks. It’s bookmarked.


November 9, 2019 8:50 pm


If you’re in SF at the end of the month you might want to share your analysis (“the rest of the story”) during a commonwealth club meeting:

the meeting descriptor says this:

…”Fueled by a rapidly warming climate, these catastrophic wildfires are burning down our communities, are hard on our physical and mental health, and can play havoc with our water supply. What are communities doing to protect their homes and their water supply?”….

November 9, 2019 11:01 pm

“How dare you misrepresent the causes of wildfires. How dare you imply less CO2 will reduce human ignitions and reduce surface fuels and the spread invasive grasses. Bad analyses lead to bad remedies! Your bad science is stealing Californian’s dreams and your false remedies distract us of from the real solutions. Young people and old alike, must demand better science and better journalism!”

Nice one Jim.

November 9, 2019 11:49 pm

One of the goals of the Agenda 21 (Club of Rome first draft in the 60s describes exactly what has been going in Australia) is to eliminate farming as we know it.
Beginning of the season the first thought was … NSW and QLD to expect bush fires after bush fires. And look what has started happening almost the first day of ‘spring/summer’ … As, what best way to deter farmers away from their lands especially after last year’s drought if not lighting fires everywhere?
20 years of life in Western Australia … before this deep solaris minima started, Australian summer temperatures were always around 40C … bush fires did happen too but not 22+ in one go.
One particular detail last year, that started the bells ringing like no tomorrow … it is Australia, it is summer, and Adelaide’s hot days were labelled as per … heat waves. That should say more than just Australian media is a bunch of controlled gutless puppets.
As per California and Amazon fires, most… actually a good 7/8 of present bush fires, are purposely lit. One to push people out, the other one to destroy enough bio diversity for CO2 experimenting and CO2 resilient plants’ observations (as recently found out by chance, experimenting like the decades and decades of nuking off tons and tons of ice from both poles .. to record ice reforming time … to then have these pics to be used for climate change bs yap) and here in Australia to kill farming industry off in order for the gov to take control of it all too.
What is going to happen when solaris minima turns into solaris maxima? More climate change bs? How about stop insulting people and say it as it has been for millions of years … the weather of this planet depends exclusively on its relationship with the sun’s activity and its orbital wobble. Green house effect is a temporary effect and usually happens during summer. It is when CO2 gas gets trapped in one spot just above our heads forming a ‘dome’ that does not allow the heat people, industries and planet’s activities produce, to travel upward to then dissipate into our the lower atmosphere. That is all. It is not a permanent situation. It is not life destructive. It is not the cause of this odd weather. Just annoying.
During most of sun’s cycles, there are five/seven years of ‘regular’ weather … but this is no dictatorship to expect and vomit around the globe, as per regular weather as if there is one thing that isn’t ‘regular’ on this planet … is the weather indeed. And nobody can do anything about it. Just respect it.
By the way the CO2 housing and vehicles’ emission in this country, is decreasing steadily because the people are actually doing something about it. Not by using alternative transportation or whatever else … but cause cars are more fuel efficient by the model and fuel greener by the drop and the other one, by using alternative sources of power … but all in all the CO2 gas emission in this country is skyrocketing like no tomorrow.
Because of the LPG process. The levels of emissions are so genocidal, ConocoPhillips Australia is injecting the grounds with tons and tons of it … method under investigation … of course. What else.
To conclude.
It is NOT climate change that needs to be yelled out, but industry change! You and him and her and I … we are doing something … the fks that keep yapping utter crap for futures that are not presents … are killing contaminating depleting destroying lands air waters and people of course.
Crime against the people and their land …fake democracy or real totalitarian monarchy … this is treachery.

Ps. Also NT is the new NASA launch pad location … no permission needed. Let’s not forget 3000 marines, which is foreign military by the way … which should be in a country cause is invading it or cause is helping to defend it. So fk are these pumped up morons still doing up there? And why Australia in 2019 is still a test site for these fkin yankees? At all?
Watch out of electric cars too. Besides being extremely far more polluting than diesel engine even, absurdly time consuming, next to none reliability, and all about knowing the whereabouts of each individual (active or not, autopilot to hack the vehicle, and gps system with AI nanotech) at all times, fkin gov is already making sure it has monopoly of such electricity sources and made sure all costs around this piece of tin controlling dangerous poisonous crap are all to be out of citizens pockets … with the usual carrot in front of the donkey ‘refund’ … back bonus whatever one calls it (look up synergy website … to make one vomit to death for ever).
So IT IS VITAL people do research themselves as otherwise … they will always be obligated to believe and repeat around what others tell them.
Australia is one of the richest continents in the world and look in 2019 at the lethal levels people land economy are today degraded to live… time to stop the insults the lies the corruption the purposely lit fires and all the damages inflicted by that bunch of corrupted human trash layer.
Use internet for what got invented for … today’s censorship makes any research a massive time consuming pain in the butt, but remember one important thing … where is the best place to hide information? Right under people’s noses. What is the best way to not have information which is all public by the way, searched for? By not instigating to research.
Loyalty pledged is today only towards the people of this country and this land. The rest is trash that needs to be taken out.

November 10, 2019 2:38 am

The mountebanks of climate alarmism feed the need, and profit mightily. The need varies. Some need purposeL Some need belonging. Some need excitement. Some need faith. Their madness is fed by passion, not reason. In this crowded theater of the absurd, the mountebanks are yelling “FIRE!” to the delight of the patrons who are there to be entertained.

Bill Parsons
November 10, 2019 10:04 am

It’s a fascinating subject, Jim. Thanks for writing.

There’s a lot of debate about whether recent fires in California are “natural” or “man-made”. It wouldn’t matter if we could beat both nature and accidents to the punch with carefully-controlled burns followed by revegetation with desireable species, and smart rebuilding.

With regard to cheat grass: Every fire presents an opportunity to revegetate with more desirable species. Cheat grass is an opportunistic invader which will take over disturbed (including recently-burned) ground. However, according to a recent USDA article, cheat grass can be managed by re-seeding (re-introducing) the native perennials immediately after fires.

As you and others note above, grazing can help eliminate it, but cheat grass needs to be grazed in early spring before the stiffening awns become a threat to cattle, and again in the fall, to manage its spread.

But wouldn’t it be accurate to say that California’s fires are not so much “grass-fed” as brush and tree-fed(?) A fire that starts in short, dry grass may not threaten a home, but it is a vector to igniting brush, weeds scrub and ultimately trees.

In plains ecosystems, suppression of woodier plants is accomplished through regular and frequent fires, a routine that seems to encourage a variety of healthy “native” grass species.

I’m guessing plains and montane ecosystems have some parallels with regard to fire management. It appears that after thousands of years of both natural (lightning-caused) and anthropogenic fire “management”, we’re coming “full circle” to the need for more frequent fires:

Roger Knights
November 10, 2019 1:04 pm

Would articles like this one have a chance of getting published without severe watering down, or getting published at all, or in a timely fashion, in today’s “scientific” “lie-terature”?

If not, then who should give credence to what it publishes favoring the alarmist position?

November 10, 2019 6:57 pm

Jim, I noticed that this isn’t one of the Pacifica Tribune articles (which I don’t think I’ve seen here recently on WUWT). Anyhoo, still trying to get my Pacifica partner to join me some weekend morning for coffee with you.
We’ll see. I’m showing her this post.

Jim Steele
Reply to  eck
November 10, 2019 7:36 pm

Hi eck,

My essay posted here is too long for the Tribune but I wanted to address the wildfire hype immediately So I have broken this essay up into 2 parts with slight modifications, with the first part focused on cheat grass and fires that will be published in about 2 weeks. Human ignitions 2 weeks later. My article are submitted 2 weeks before the get published. The article I had published this week was titled Protecting California’s Coast & Improving Our Environment. Because its focus was more local and I wanted to address the wildfire hype now I did not post the last Tribune article to WUWT . However it is blogged at

I would be glad to meet you for morning coffee or early evening at our local wine bar . Just email me at

November 10, 2019 9:49 pm

Very good job Jim, it’s informative and you explained it within a simple and readable text. Something that’s often missing in more convoluted contrary argumentation. Please keep writing in that way.

Solomon Green
November 12, 2019 6:36 am

Thanks. Jim Sreele. I have downloaded your article and studied your graphs.. the have provided me with a number of useful facts that it would have taken me ages to find for myself.

Johann Wundersamer
November 21, 2019 6:22 am

“one wildfire expert wrote, “Predicting future fire regimes is not rocket science; it is far more complicated than that.””

Yes, cause it’s 30 30 30:

Air humidity 30 km/h; temperatures > 30°C >< 86° Fahrenheit.

A 3 constants problem.


“Predicting future fire regimes is not rocket science; it is far more complicated than that.”"

Anyone here to think a 3 constants problem is rocket science, equals a 3 bodies problem –

Johann Wundersamer
November 21, 2019 7:10 am

“The increase in burned area is also attributed to increases in human ignitions such as faulty electrical grids, to increased surface fuels from years of fire suppression, and to changes in vegetation that increased the abundance of easily ignited fine fuels like annual grasses.”

Not to forget Self-ignition of tinder-like dried straws, ignition by lightning strike, reflections of lost sunglasses, softdrink- or marmalade glasses …

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